FOR OUR SAKE
“For Our Sake”
The our in the Creed is a terrible temptation to me.
When people talk about the sacrificial love of Christ, I have a tendency to start doing math. Well, if it was for all of our sake, Christ saved an astounding number of people through his crucifixion. In fact, he saved more people than I can try and picture (even with Knuth Paper Stack Notation). The current population of the United States is over three hundred million. I can write that number down, but I can’t get an intuitive picture of how many people that is. And I can’t actually differentiate it from the number of people in the world (nearly seven billion) or the number of people who have ever lived, let alone the number of people who will have ever lived. It’s an unreasonable number.
Which starts to make Christ’s love feel reasonable.
And as I’m wondering all this, I’ve managed to shrink myself to invisibility in the the great throng of people washed in Christ’s blood. If we’re spreading out his sacrifice among all of us, I’m hardly redeemed by his death. Once we average it out, I can’t lay claim to more than one thorn-puncture. And, honestly, I’m more one platelet in that wound than the wound itself.
Why do I want to flinch away from my personal relationship with Christ’s suffering and death? Well, any number of reasons. Some days I want to shy away from a feeling of guilt —averaged out among us all, the marginal cost of my sin isn’t so large. And some days I just don’t want to look at the grotesqueness of Christ’s crucifixion—I feel a bit like the girlfriend of Van Gogh; what on earth can you say to suffering and sacrifice offered to you as a gift? I have to bite back a “But really, you shouldn’t have. At least not on my behalf!”
But what I received isn’t just the gift of Christ’s sacrifice and suffering, it’s the gift of His love. His love for me, personally, caused him to be willing to endure death on a cross, so that I could have the chance to participate in the perfect love he shares with our Father. If it could have happened another way, He would presumably have done that, but His actions aren’t motivated by a macabre masochism, but by an intense desire to experience the fullness of truth and telos.
It’s His boundless love that moved him to suffer death for me personally, and love isn’t diminished when it’s spread out over many people. But just repeating catechism to myself isn’t enough to cause me to stop trying to use my ‘our’ loophole to minimize the depth of Christ’s love (and my accompanying terror at having a gift I can’t repay).
If I can’t figure out how to think about infinite love spread out over infinite people, I can use that perplexedness as a way to be united to everyone else who feels simultaneously guilty and grateful for receiving such a gift. When I stand next to my my brothers and sisters in Christ and say the word “our” with them at Mass, I don’t need to stand outside them, counting up the census. I can notice that love that overwhelms us, and overwhelms our ability to comprehend its magnitude, has given me one more gift—a way to be united to every other person in the group.
What are your thoughts? What else can we learn from “for our sake”?
Leah Libresco grew up as an atheist but was received into the Church in November 2012. She writes about religion, philosophy, and more musical theatre than you’d expect at Unequally Yoked
Read all the entries in the Blog Series: Credo: Professing the Creed for the Year of Faith.